Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Is Moral, Ethical and Intellectual Excellence Prophecy?.

The idea that prophecy is a natural human ability takes on a practical dimension when Rambam categorizes eleven levels of prophecy excluding Moshe. In MN 2:45 Rambam introduces the first level as follows:

“The first degree of prophecy consists in the divine assistance which is given to a person, and induces and encourages him to do something good and grand, e.g., to deliver a congregation of good men from the hands of evildoers; to save one noble person, or to bring happiness to a large number of people; he finds in himself the cause that moves and urges him to this deed. This degree of divine influence is called" the spirit of the Lord" : and of the person who is under that influence we say that the spirit of the Lord came upon him, clothed him, or rested upon him, or the Lord was with him, and the like. All the judges of Israel possessed this degree, for the following general statement is made concerning them --" The Lord raised up judges for them; and the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them" (judges ii. 18). Also all the noble chiefs of Israel belonged to this class. The same is distinctly stated concerning some of the judges and the kings:--" The spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah" (ibid. xi. 29): of Samson it is said," The spirit of the Lord came upon him" (ibid. xiv. 19):" And the spirit of the Lord came upon Saul when he heard those words" (I Sam. xi. 6). When Amasa was moved by the holy spirit to assist David," A spirit clothed Amasa, who was chief of the captains, and he said, we are yours, David," etc. (I Chron. xii. 18). This faculty was always possessed by Moses from the time he had attained the age of manhood: it moved him to slay the Egyptian, and to prevent evil from the two men that quarreled; it was so strong that, after he had fled from Egypt out of fear, and arrived in Midian, a trembling stranger, he could not restrain himself from interfering when he saw wrong being done; he could not bear it. Comp." And Moses rose and saved them" (Exod. ii. 17). David likewise was filled with this spirit, when he was anointed with the oil of anointing. Comp." And the spirit of God came upon David from that day and upward" (I Sam. xvi. 13). He thus conquered the lion and the bear and the Philistine, and accomplished similar tasks, by this very spirit. This faculty did not cause any of the above-named persons to speak on a certain subject, for it only aims at encouraging the person who possesses it to action; it does not encourage him to do everything, but only to help either a distinguished man or a whole congregation when oppressed, or to do something that leads to that end.”

Basically what Rambam describes as a first step towards prophecy, is someone who has a well-developed sense of right and wrong, one who is action oriented and fearless. Many people have a sense of justice and act on it. What makes one into a prophet?

Just as not all who have a true dream are prophets, so it cannot be said of every one who is assisted in a certain undertaking, as in the acquisition of property, or of some other personal advantage, that the spirit of the Lord came upon him, or that the Lord was with him, or that he performed his actions by the holy spirit. We only apply such phrases to those who have accomplished something very good and grand, or something that leads to that end: e.g., the success of Joseph in the house of the Egyptian, which was the first cause leading evidently to great events that occurred subsequently.”

It depends on the long-term outcome of his actions. It is not clear exactly what the criteria is but in general terms it is not something that affects only an individual. It has to have an effect on a population or group of people.

The next level is similar but more intellectual:

The second degree is this: A person feels as if something came upon him, and as if he had received a new power that encourages him to speak. He treats of science, or composes hymns, exhorts his fellow men, discusses political and theological problems; all this he does while awake, and in the full possession of his senses. Such a person is said to speak by the Holy Spirit. David composed the Psalms, and Solomon the Book of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon by this spirit; also Daniel, job, Chronicles, and the rest of the Hagiography were written in this holy spirit; therefore they are called ketubim (Writings, or Written), i.e., written by men inspired by the holy spirit.”

Clearly we are talking about people with developed ethical, moral and intellectual capacities that undertake to do great things. Rambam makes it clear that we are not talking about prophecy per se but rather a kind of precursor to it. It is these same people as they continue in this process, combining their innate senses with intellectual growth, eventually reach levels that they themselves can accept as prophecy. It is the prophet who knows when he is prophesying; no outside person can tell him that it is so. Beit Din can only verify his claim.

What I find fascinating about this is that David and Shlomo who composed Tehilim, Mishlei and Kohelet, books that are at the core of Jewish theology, are not considered full fledged prophets. It is the Holy Spirit, Ruach Hakodesh, which inspired them. They themselves did not consider it prophecy just holy inspiration.

I have, therefore, pointed out to you, that the prophecy revealed to Daniel and Solomon, although they saw an angel in the dream, was not considered by them as a perfect prophecy, but as a dream containing correct information. They belonged to the class of men that spoke, inspired by the Ruach Hakodesh, the Holy Spirit."

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